Princeton Professor Asks If The N-Word Can Be Protected Speech . . . Students Walk Out and Protest To University

220px-Princeton_shield.svgPrinceton Professor Lawrence Rosen is facing protests after various students accused him racist language in a recent class.  What is different about this controversy is that the class was on racist language and oppressive symbolism. In an effort to discuss the limits of free speech, Rosen used the n-word and asked if it is protected speech.  Some students answered that question by walking out and protesting to the university.  It is concerning that even a discussion of this word in a relevant class is now viewed as worthy of discipline by some faculty and students.  This controversy is occurring after more schools have banned Huckleberry Finn due to the use of the n-word.  

According to The Daily Princetonian, Rosen used the word in his anthropology 212 course, “Cultural Freedoms: Hate Speech, Blasphemy and Pornography.” He is quoted as saying “What is worse, a white man punching a black man, or white man calling a black man a ni**er?”

The class is on oppressive symbolism.  It is not like this is a class of pottery or modern dance.  Philosophy and legal classes routinely deal with troubling language and cases, including racist, anti-Semitic and other prejudicial terminology.  Is it necessary to say “the n-word” when everyone understand you are using . . .  well  . . .  the n-word?  An important distinction in this case is that the language is being used in a relevant class to adults, not high school or elementary students.  There are dozens of racists and offensive terms that arise in such classes.  Do academics have to use substitutes for everyone of the terms or can graduate students address the offensive terms in the academic setting?

So does this blog.  Usually, I use “the n-word” to avoid what is clearly a hurtful word for many. However, in this context, I used the word because it was relevant to the story as it was to Rosen’s class.  What concerns me is that we are removing language that is important to discuss our history and our language, including the ill-advised banning of books like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird which convey important social and historical values.  We have discussed this troubling trend in literature and academia.

My concern is that we are limited academic discourse and creating barriers to good-faith discussions of language and meaning.

Do you think the use of this word in any context is racially insensitive?

55 thoughts on “Princeton Professor Asks If The N-Word Can Be Protected Speech . . . Students Walk Out and Protest To University”

  1. Turley notes “Usually, I use ‘the n-word’ to avoid what is clearly a hurtful word for many.” The problem with that tactic is that it serves to discourage students and others from building backbone. A citizenry without backbone will inevitably result in a system other than democracy.

  2. Turley, by using the n-word, seems to be contradicting his own essay and stance. On the other hand, bravo to commenter James for actually daring to write the word NIGGER, in lieu of the childish N-WORD. We must fight against those who are ever trying to control our vocabulary, you know, the cultural Marxists.
    G. Tod Slone, PhD (Université de Nantes, FR), aka P. Maudit,
    Founding Editor (1998)
    The American Dissident, a 501c3 Nonprofit Journal of Literature, Democracy, and Dissidence
    217 Commerce Rd.
    Barnstable, MA 02630

  3. James – Jesuit was a pejorative until the order decided to wear as a badge of honor.

  4. Thanks for the link, Olly. I wish that word would just die already. African Americans have stated that racism is a very important issue, so why do they keep this word alive in parlance rather than relegating it to dusty history?

    The first step towards leaving our racist past behind us is for the African American community to please stop calling each other racist epithets. I don’t care about the argument that they can do it but white people cannot. Just stop perpetuating racist slurs. Rappers, you can heel-toe it through a song without using the N-word.

    I think that is more relevant and constructive than tearing down any statute in a park.

    That said, I still do not believe in legislating language or walking out of classrooms because the word was used in a class discussion or a respected work from the past.

  5. We’ve had an endless series of posts about assaults on the First Amendment by colleges and universities. We get the picture. Maybe it’s about time that someone actually DO SOMETHING other than post about how awful it is. This would take some actual effort, but I suggest that a group of law professors be formed to actually defend and litigate for First Amendment rights. There’s nothing like being smacked with a lawsuit to make these colleges think before penalizing free speech. But until some of these law profs are willing to put down their pipes and get out of their arm chairs and do some real work, I’m kind of tired of the pearl clutching about how awful it is on today’s campuses…..Are they just lazy or don’t they really care all that much?

    1. TIN – you don’t bite the hand that feeds you, but you might bite the hand the feeds someone else. 😉 Still, FIRE often will file lawsuits, usually for students but they might for a professor, against colleges and universities and they have a great track record of winning. Back in my day, a sharp memo from the AAUP would snap the administration into line, however, now they are a toothless dragon.

  6. Unmitigated nonsense. The scope of the course curriculum put reasonable people on notice that these types of flashpoint words would be discussed. If Princeton succumbs to this lunacy then it should be added to the “do not attend” list. Slightly off topic, however, is the fact that this blog posts stories about such idiocy to fire up the mouth-breathing droolers, klan-lite wannabees and gullible rubes; many of whom have turned out with the predictably typical commentary.

  7. Another club in the assault on whiteness is “cultural appropriation,” as in the idea that the dominant culture inappropriately adopts or utilizes elements of a minority culture — with the attendant subtext that such appropriation is driven by colonial impulses, and an imbalance of power violating the “collective intellectual property rights” of the minority culture.

    How in the world are whites ever going to be perceived as moving beyond our so-called racist roots when in doing so we are attacked for cultural appropriation? It’s as though Whites are being told to stay in their own White lanes lest they be marked as racist for daring to ignore their own whiteness. Ironically, it seems as though Whites are arguing against separate but equal, while non-Whites argue in support of it.

  8. It is as if universities have become some sort of alien world.

    I clearly recall when I was a college student, my professors made a point of teaching us like adults, and not children. A couple used profanity, most notably my physics professor when he accidentally shocked himself. Others said shocking things, purposely challenging us to think. We were’t to be cosseted and spoken to like children. We were women and men dealing with tough issues. We’d go to coffee houses and argue. Some would protest. Some would counter protest.

    Whatever happened? We would have been deeply shamed to have required or demanded to be treated like we were delicate.

    If you cannot handle haring hate speech, then why in the world would you attend a class explicitly about hate speech? If you cannot handle the facts that the First Amendment protects speech, regardless of how offensive it is, then you need to consider where you want to live. If you so vehemently oppose one or two Constitutionally protected individual rights, then there are myriad other countries to which you can move. There are even Western countries who do not have such free speech protections, where you might be quite happy.

    What is the problem? If you don’t like the rules, then find an environment where you can get on.

    1. I wish that Word Press would allow me to edit posts, because those spelling errors were atrocious.

      1. Don’t coddle the snowflakes. I can read your posts with or without spelling errors just fine. If I needed clarity because of the errors, well I’ll just ask for it.

  9. “Nigxxx” is such a powerful word because our society is busily engaged in pretending that there is no such thing as a nigxxx. Oh no, you could search the length and breadth of America and never come up with a single one of them!

    Because if there was such a thing a nigxxx, then we might have to ask ourselves all sorts of uncomfortable questions, like how come? And, are we making the situation worse? No, those questions cause the sort of nausea that comes with cognitive dissonance. Sooo, most of us will keep on pretending there are no nigxxxs, and that 77% illegitimate birth rate is the result of uh, er, ahem, I I mean it can’t be because they’re a bunch of nigxxxs who want something for nothing, no, not that, sooo. . .OH! I got it! Institutionalized Racism and Slavery! Yes, that’s the ticket!

    And all that crime? That isn’t because they’re a bunch of nigxxxs, oh no because there is no such thing. No, all black people are alike! From millionaire football players to dead drug dealers, they are just a solid group of cuddly little African Americans! Not a nigxxx in the bunch! And all that crime and violence? Well, why are they even keeping statistics by race! The French don’t! Sooo, those statistics are fruits of the poisonous tree of curiosity!

    And the ignorance? The miserable academic rates? The entire schools where not one black kid is proficient in Math and English, and the many schools where black kids are passed from grade to grade based on their birthdays? No, that isn’t because the kids are being raised by nigxxxs who could care less about education, or that they have to go to school with little nigxxxs who will tease them and beat them up if they actually like science, and reading. No, its that we aren’t spending enough! Or, the school stairwell has some rust on it!

    Meanwhile, all us whites who are dead certain that there are no such things as nigxxxs, will somehow manage to not live in black communities, and our kids won’t go to predominantly black schools, because uh, er, hmmm. OH I got it! Because we’re prejudiced! Yes, that’s it! Pure dee old unreasonable prejudice! Because, who wouldn’t love living around all that black wonderfulness! The friendly hair-weave pulling brawls in Chuck E Cheese! The friendly sharing of assets by the community, thru your back door when you aren’t home! The adventure of bullets zinging thru your home when Gang One is try to communicate with Gang Two! The rhythmic thump thump thump of jungle music from the backs of cars.

    You might want to read this, from 20 years ago. It’s written by a black guy.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  10. As a child we use taunt each other with “ sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me”…..where did that truism go? We are so messed up

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